“Web” Category

New Nest and 3.0 Software

Nest announced the new Nest and the 3.0 version of their software today.

The new version works with a lot more systems, controls them more intelligently, and looks a little better, too. The 3.0 update brings, among other things, a better auto-away mode; now, it’ll go into auto-away mode as soon as 30 minutes after you leave the house.

Solid update to an already very good product. I love this company.

October 2nd, 2012

Microsoft’s High School Comp Sci Teachers

Microsoft engineers are teaching computer science at local high schools:

While computer science can be an intimidating subject, Microsoft has sought to connect it to the technologies most students use in their everyday lives. At Rainier Beach High recently, Peli de Halleux, a Microsoft software engineer, taught a class on making software for mobile phones.

The students buried their faces in the phones, supplied by Microsoft. They were asked to create programs that performed simple functions, like playing a random song when the phones were shaken.

The problem Microsoft is trying to address is that there are too few computer science graduates for the amount of available jobs in the industry. So after one employee began volunteering at a local high school to teach computer science, they created a program for it. Microsoft and Google employees, among others, now teach classes in Washington, Utah, North Dakota and California.

What a great program. Participating students are, if the article is any indication, quite excited about it—it exposes them to something they hadn’t been exposed to before, provides them a role model of someone who’s taken their education and made it into something real, and it teaches them that they can build things themselves, they can have ideas for new things and make them.

Microsoft’s program is also trying to educate high school teachers so they can teach these classes themselves, and that hasn’t been quite as successful. That should be a focus, though; it’d be very powerful if companies in various fields provided workshops for high school teachers to become proficient at something new so they can teach it back at their schools. Combined with guest lectures (or whatever you want to call it) from people at the companies or organizations, who visit and teach students, this model could be very effective.

October 1st, 2012

Speaking of How to Lead a Company…

Speaking of how to lead a company:

When asked about Color’s plans to pivot, Nguyen said that it is not in the works — though he thinks it should be. “I don’t think there is a pivot happening now at all, but if I were there we would pivot,” he said. “I would say we’re at an interesting juncture, and Color needs to decide how it wants to proceed.”

Nguyen is the CEO of Color. He’s on “sabbatical.”

September 28th, 2012

More Information on the Mars Stream bed

NASA released more information about the Mars stream bed yesterday:

The rounded shape of some stones in the conglomerate indicates long-distance transport from above the rim, where a channel named Peace Vallis feeds into the alluvial fan. The abundance of channels in the fan between the rim and conglomerate suggests flows continued or repeated over a long time, not just once or for a few years.

They say that it was between ankle and waist-deep.

Mars had continuously-flowing streams of water. There should be a very, very good chance that Mars once had life. It is unbelievably exciting that we’ve discovered evidence of it, and that the Curiosity rover may even discover more direct evidence of life.

September 28th, 2012

Curiosity Finds Dry Stream Bed on Mars

The Curiosity rover has found an ancient stream bed on Mars.

Incredible to see. That’s not the first evidence we’ve found of flowing water on Mars, but seeing a steam bed that easily could be mistaken for one on Earth on another planet is awe-inspiring.

Also, isn’t it great that they released this photo on Twitter?

September 27th, 2012

“UI design is like selling a restaurant”

A “senior” interface designer at Apple defended their skeuomorphic-tendencies:

I think it’s an important tool. The thing to remember is that UI design is like selling a restaurant, where you can’t just serve up good food in order to run a restaurant. You have to create an environment around the food that gets people in the mood to enjoy a really great meal: presenting the food really nicely, picking the right plates, the lighting on the table, the music that is playing. When you put all that together, it creates a much nicer experience than if you just were to serve up some good food.

Good argument, and one that I buy, but the problem is that many of these applications simply aren’t very good. Even if you strip away the leather from Calendar and the fake address book-look from Contacts, they’re not at all well-designed. Deleting contacts from Contacts on iPad requires selecting the contact, tapping edit, scrolling down, tapping “Delete,” and then confirming that you want to delete the contact. Adding events to Calendar is a similarly convoluted, time-consuming mess.

The faux-leather and faux-real life design of these applications only magnifies it. If they were good applications, it’d be a minor complaint at best. But they’re not.

September 26th, 2012

Steve Jobs on Google Maps In 2007

Here’s Steve Jobs on Google Maps in 2007:

We’re not trying to do a lot of stuff… You’ve got to partner with people that are really good at stuff. … We don’t know how to do maps on the back-end, we know how to do the best maps client in the world, but we don’t know how to do the back-end. So we partner with people that know how to do the back-end.

What we want to do is be that consumer’s device and that consumer’s experience wrapped around all this information and things we can deliver to them in a wonderful user interface and a coherent interface.

That approach hasn’t changed; Apple partners with Yahoo for weather, stock and sports data, and with Yelp for restaurant data. But what changed then is that Google wouldn’t provide Apple with new features in mapping like vector tiles and turn-by-turn directions without compromising the user experience, and so Apple had very little choice but to do it on their own.

Their first priority is to provide the best product they can to the customer. If that means partnering with someone that does something really well, do it; if it means doing it yourself, like with iTunes, then do that.

Yahoo email is another example. When Apple released the first iPhone, they partnered with Yahoo to provide free push email. The problem is that Yahoo email sucked, and it didn’t allow Apple to do things they wanted to do, like push contacts and calendar as well—so they went down the path of building their own.

That’s how Apple approaches these kinds of issues. Perhaps Apple could have waited another year to release their own maps application, but that would have been another year without turn-by-turn and without vector tiles, and it would have meant they were another year away from improving the quality of their maps data, which at some point has to happen from user-provided data. It sucks for customers that their maps aren’t as good as what we had while using Google Maps, but that was going to be true whenever they released it. Better to pull the band-aid off now and start the process toward a future where Apple can actually provide new features with maps.

September 26th, 2012

What does iPhone have to do with robots?

Om Malik explains that the success of smartphones are making new kinds of affordable robots (like Baxter) possible:

What is even more exciting — well, at least to me — is that the road to this robotic future is littered with billions of smartphones. The reason why we can build robots like Baxter today is because of the falling prices of sensors and other components. Before the iPhone rolled around, phones didn’t use that many chips. Apple came along and made it normal to demand gyrometers pyrometers, accelerometers, digital cameras, touch and other such sensors.

Fascinating point. This trend should allow much more than just robots; cheap processors and sensors should allow the computerization of much of our world.

September 24th, 2012

iMessage Gets Smarter

James Duncan Davidson notices that Messages is getting better at working across multiple devices:

In the small but lovely improvements department, iMessage support in iOS 6 and OS X 10.8.2 seems to finally smooth out many of the rough edges that it has sported since arriving last year. The ability to receive messages to your phone number on all your clients is the well-publicized part of this. More subtle—and much more welcome in my book—is the fact that iMessage now seems to sort out which client you’re using and keep the rest from dinging extraneously.

I’ve noticed the same thing—if I’m on my Mac and a message comes in while Messages is in the foreground or I bring it to the foreground within a certain amount of time, my iPhone and iPad don’t pop up notifications for it. It seems to work the same for opening messages on my iPad or iPhone, too.

Apple’s iMessage has had quite a few issues, but it’s improving quite nicely. It’s a wonderful thing to have continuous conversations across my Mac, iPhone and iPad. It’s getting so good that it’s almost entirely replaced instant messaging for me for conversations with certain people.

If it’s an indication for how iCloud and Siri are developing, then we should be quite happy, too. Apple seems to be getting better at this whole web services thing.

September 24th, 2012

Competing On the Story

Marcelo Somers:

Sony’s success with the transistor radio came from shifting the conversation for their customers. Knowing that they fell short in sound quality compared to the vaccum tube radios, Sony’s marketing emphasized their benefit: the size. They didn’t just tell consumers it was smaller, they showed them using it on the beach, in their car, and carrying it around. They didn’t compete on features, they competed on the story.

That’s excellent. What I think it means to “compete on the story” is to completely understand how your product should be used and what its advantage is. For Sony, it was listening to the radio wherever you please. For the iPod, it was a thousand songs in your pocket. Etc.

You can’t sell a truly new product (something people haven’t seen before) by listing its features. For the iPod, if Apple said, “Well, it’s got a hard drive and a scroll wheel and a headphone jack and a Firewire port,” people wouldn’t have had a clue what they were talking about. That means nothing to them. So instead, Apple showed them what the iPod does for you: it’s a little thing that you can take with you in your pocket and listen to all of your music.

That’s hard for companies to do, because many of them don’t have the understanding of their product necessary to create such a clear and to-the-point explanation as “a thousand songs in your pocket.” They don’t have a clear understanding because their design process doesn’t have that focus, either; they start with the market segment they want to target, then talk to customers and make a list of what their needs are, and then try to create a product which meets those needs. As a result, the product they create attempts to meet a list of needs rather than solve a problem. Their product has no defining thesis, no single purpose, and therefore they can’t tell customers a story about how it is going to be used.

That’s what design is. On the surface, what Marcelo is saying sounds like it can be something achieved at the end of the product design process by the marketing team. It sounds like it’s a customer perception issue. But it’s not. It’s a company processes and culture problem.

September 24th, 2012

Pure Digital Massively Trumps Print

The Atlantic is continuing to be successful by turning into a media company rather than a print company:

“It’s become very, very clear to me that digital trumps print, and that pure digital, without any legacy costs, massively trumps print,” Mr. Bradley said.

At a time when other media properties are leaning hard on subscriptions and paywalls, Mr. Smith believes that a free product, with revenue from sponsorships and events, can avoid the dependency on commodity ads and play in more rarefied, lucrative terrain.

In a way, they’re turning their publications into (profitable) loss-leaders for other, more lucrative businesses, like conferences. Smart.

September 24th, 2012

Art, Obsolete Before Science

Callum J. Hackett responds to a piece by Jonathan Jones that argues science has overtaken art in expanding minds:

Jones’s conception of art’s purpose is also too narrow. Art is not just for expanding minds and revealing beauty – that is a demeaning reduction that people too often indulge in, thinking that art is a delivery service for the picturesque and delectable. But art is so much more than that: it is an unbridled form of self-reflection. Art digs deep into every facet of our being – physical, psychological, social – and offers a view of ourselves untainted by comforting romance. Where is the horror in science? Where is the loneliness, the desolation, the unwilling acceptance of mortality? Science is almost too relentlessly beautiful to replace art – it slowly reveals everything we could ever want to know about ourselves, but it tells us nothing about how to interpret and deal with that information. It is all ablaze with the most amazing facts, but void of intimacy, personality and ethics.

On the contrary, I think art—something we use to analyze our world and find truth behind it—is more important now than ever. Science can tell us about how things are, but it can’t ever tell us how they should be.

(Via Rian van der Merwe.)

September 24th, 2012

A Talk With Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson, while talking to The Guardian about his new film, Looper:

“His [Haruki Murakami's] characters have this new-wave cool to them,” says Johnson. “There’s also a casualness with which he introduces sci-fi elements that appealed to me. Like the way we integrate the telekinesis stuff. They [the Loopers] use it as a bar trick to pick up chicks; it’s a bit of a wank. Normally that would be this huge sci-fi idea. I took that technique from Murakami.”

September 24th, 2012

Uber the Hunted

Megan McArdle dissects the Washington, D.C. Taxi commission’s effort to ban Uber from the city:

Now they’re trying to do it again, as the taxi commission proposes yet another set of rules. Among other things, the rules would prevent any sedan company with fewer than 20 vehicles from operating in the district, force companies to have an office in the district (Uber does, some like competitors don’t), and require, yes, printed receipts.

Wonderful. But it’s for the customer!

Fantastic example of how incumbent businesses can use government regulation to lock out competition.

September 21st, 2012

Basil 1.1

In March, I announced Basil 1.0. Today, Basil 1.1 is available on the App Store.

This version is more powerful, useful and… well, better. There’s twice as many supported sites, unit conversion for metric units users who want to cook American recipes with all of those teaspoons and tablespoons, recipe sharing, and a more powerful search. Oh, and creating or editing recipes is now easier, too.

It’s easier to find great recipes, easier to cook them, and easier to create your own.

More Sites

Basil now supports automatic saving from 20 great recipe sites. In addition to sites like Serious Eats, Allrecipes.com and Food Network, Basil now supports Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart, the BBC’s recipes, and Australia’s Lifestyle Food. One site I particularly love is Love and Olive Oil. It’s an absolutely beautiful site with fantastic recipes, and I’m incredibly excited to have it in Basil.

Of course, when you search for new recipes to cook, Basil will find recipes from these new sites as well. It’s a very good way to find new recipes, because when you’re searching for something, Basil will only show you recipes from these great sites. No need to sort through Google search results.

Automatic Unit Conversion

If you’re outside the U.S., you probably don’t use American teaspoons, tablespoons, cups or ounces, which makes trying to cook recipes that use American measurements a, um, bit of a pain. To make that a bit easier, Basil will now convert them to metric units. But it doesn’t just have a conversion tool available in the app: if you select your preferred units in settings (American or metric units), Basil will automatically convert each recipe’s ingredients for you to your preferred units. So if a recipe calls for “1 cup of whole milk,” it’ll convert it to “240 ml of whole milk.” Basil never actually alters the recipe, though—it just displays it in your preferred units. That way, your recipe is always safe and accurate.

Basil goes a bit farther, too. American recipes measure many dry ingredients, like flour and sugar, using teaspoons, tablespoons and cups—which are volume measurements. People who use metric units for cooking, though, often use weight measurements for dry ingredients (something that makes a heck of a lot more sense), so there’s a problem: converting teaspoons to milliliters for dry ingredients, then, wouldn’t be very useful. So for many common dry ingredients—like flour, sugar, and different spices—Basil will convert them to weight measurements. It’s really convenient.

No need to go through and convert a bunch of amounts yourself. Let Basil do it for you.

Note: For now, for users who select “American units,” metric measurements will not be converted to teaspoons, tablespoons and cups.

Recipe Sharing

Basil already allows you to email recipes to people, but now they can add the recipe straight to their Basil library. It’s really easy. If you want to share a recipe with someone, email it to them like normal. Now there’s a link at the top of the email titled “Add to Basil”. When they tap this button on their iPad, it’ll do exactly what you expect: it’ll launch Basil and add it to their library.

It’s really convenient if you’re going to cook with someone and you both want the recipe on your iPad. Send it over and get cooking.

Better Search

Right now, you can search the full-text for each recipe in your Basil library. In 1.1, you can do basic AND or OR searches. So if you want to see just recipes from Serious Eats with bacon, search for “serious eats AND bacon”. Or if you want to see recipes with either cheddar or mozzarella, search “cheddar OR mozzarella”.

It’s a simple addition, but it’s quite useful. Maybe you can’t quite remember the recipe you’re looking for, but you know it’s from Allrecipes.com or Love And Olive Oil. Search for “allrecipes OR loveandoliveoil”, and Basil will show you just your recipes from those two sites.

Better Recipe Editor

Basil gives you full control to edit any of your recipes or add your own, but it didn’t take many directions or ingredients before you ran out of space for editing them. The 1.1 fixes this issue. When you add a new ingredient or direction or edit an existing one, the ingredient and direction lists slide up to the top of the screen, and when you’re done, they slide back. This gives you plenty of room to create or edit really long recipes.

Bolded Ingredient Amounts

When viewing recipes, any measurements in the list of ingredients—”2 cups,” “100mg”—are bolded to make them easier to pick out at a glance while you’re cooking. This is a small little addition that should make cooking a bit easier for you. This is an iOS 6-only feature.

I think this is a great update to Basil, and I hope you all love it!

September 19th, 2012